Jackie Robinson, Empathy and Shattering Stereotypes

42-HankAaronMissy and I watched the movie 42 last week. As you probably already know, Jackie Robinson was the first Black player in Major League Baseball. As you might guess, it wasn’t a smooth transition and Robinson endured a lot of hate and persecution along the way.

This movie could be a case study in how to shatter stereotypes. When a stereotype is first challenged, people typically cling to it more tightly than before and defend it even more vigorously. You see this in the movie as the insults start to fly, the boo’s of the crowd and very public curses and excoriation from opposing managers. The question at that point is whether the stereotype will hold true or be proven false. In other words, if Jackie Robinson reacts harshly (even if justified) it feeds the stereotype and the stereotype continues.

There was a defining scene in the movie when the opposing team’s manager is yelling crude remarks at Robinson while he is at bat. Robinson gets so mad that he walks off the field, away from the public eye, into the tunnel and repeatedly hits his bat against the wall. As he slumps to the floor of the tunnel, the tears and sobs begin. It was the moment everything changed. Aaron had made a choice and he was reaping the terrible but temporary consequences of his wise and humbling decision. Instead of retaliating with what would have been justifiable anger, he swallowed his pride and his anger for a bigger purpose.

Here is why that is important. If just once Robinson shouts back…just one violent reaction and the whole thing is blown. Once he acts violently, even justifiably, he fits the stereotype. When that happens, the stereotype is allowed to continue…even increase. But, if Robinson is respectful. If he is kind. If he ignores it and plays the game the best he can, like the bat he beat against the wall, the power of the stereotype is shattered.

Once he endures and doesn’t retaliate, Robinson becomes the victim which then allows the crowd to see him as something deeper than a victim…they start to see him as human. The insults no longer make sense. The booing just doesn’t seem to fit, much less feel right. People start seeing the injustice for what it really is and they became empathetic. Empathy has a way of shattering stereotypes because it is hard to hold empathy and a competing stereotype in your head and in your heart at the same time. One has to go. Thanks to Jackie Robinson for keeping his integrity, doing the tough thing, and helping to change a nation.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you should watch it. I also want to point you to two posts that you should read that are related to this. The first is by Jonathan Storment: Good and Evil: Let the Blames Begin. The second is by Richard Beck: Theology and Peace: Why Scapegoating is Like Axe Body Spray.

The Difference Between The Revolutionary and the Cynic

The revolutionary and the cynic have only one thing in common. Both point out what is wrong. Then there are their differences…

The cynic thrives in broken systems. The revolutionary challenges them.

The cynic refuses to envision a better future. The revolutionary pursues it.

The cynic is talk. The revolutionary is action.

The cynic only looks for what is wrong. The revolutionary looks past what is wrong to what can be.

The cynic wants to silence the revolutionary. The revolutionary wants to silence the cynic.

Christianity is a revolutionary faith…resurrection is a call to revolution. It is a call to new life. Be revolutionary. Don’t settle for just pointing out what is wrong…even fools can spot that. It takes wisdom to take what is wrong and make it right.

Hellenism vs. Hebraism in our Understanding of Faith and Baptism

In Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways Handbook he describes the differences between a Greek/Hellenistic worldview and a Hebraic one like this,

“The Hebrew worldview was a life-oriented one and was not primarily concerned with concepts and ideas in themselves. We simply do not believe that we can continue to try and think our way into a new way of acting; but rather, we need to act our way into a new way of thinking.

How did we move so far from the ethos of discipleship passed on to us by our Lord? The cause lies in Western Christianity being so deeply influence by Greek, or Hellenistic, ideas of knowledge. By the fourth century, in the church the Platonic worldview had almost triumphed over the Hebraic on. Later, it was Aristotle who became the predominant philosopher for the church. He too operated under a Hellenistic framework. Essentially a Hellensitic view of knowledge is concerned about concepts, ideas and the nature of being., The Hebraic on the other hand, is primarily concerned with issues of concrete existence, obedience, life-oriented wisdom, and interrelationship of all things under God. As Jews, Jesus and the early church quite clearly operated primarily out of a Hebraic understanding rather than a Hellenistic one.” – Hirsch, 21

I haven’t done a lot of reading on this distinction so I am trusting he got this right! If he is correct, and knowledge consists of information and experience, then how does that inform our reading of verses pertaining to salvation? I am wondering if this dynamic doesn’t heavily affect our reading of Paul when he writes about being saved by grace through faith,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

Because of our Western/Hellenistic roots we read that, see the word faith, and automatically reduce it down to believe the right things. In doing so we make faith almost completely about intellectual assent. When we read Paul through that filter we come away thinking anyone who believes Jesus is the Son of God is therefore saved because they believe the right thing. Are we missing something here because we aren’t reading these words through a more Hebraic understanding of knowledge? Also, how do you balance Paul’s Hebrew heritage with his own rhetorical savvy in addressing Gentile audiences? In other words, would Paul have employed a Hellenistic approach to knowledge toward Greeks or would he have tried to bring them over toward a more Hebraic way of thinking on these things? I am not sure we have an answer to that question (I wonder what Ben Witherington would say in response to that?)

Ok…back to the main point. If the Hebrews understood knowledge to include action and experience then things like belief and faith must then be reflected by the way we live. I believe James confirms that in his letter (James 2:18-19). So when it comes to baptism what you have is the natural, Hebraic expression of belief acted and lived out. Our faith takes on legs…not legs that force God to save us but legs that walk with our Savior in humble, imperfect, attempted obedience.

Last, when it comes to whether or not we say someone is a Christian, it is often all boiled down to whether or not they believe the correct things (more the Hellenistic route to knowledge) with little to no evaluation of whether or not the life they are actually living much resembles their head knowledge. I am not so sure the early Christians would have done that. Again, James offers us confirmation on that one too when he writes about what the demons believe in 2:19. It seems that the difference between the demons and us is not about belief…it is more about submission, experience and relationship because when it comes to head knowledge and intellectual assent, they agree with us…God is real and Jesus is the Son of God but choose not to walk in step with Him.

Any thoughts on this?

Common Ingredients of a Paradigm Shift

Ingredients involved in the growing realization there is a need for change & innovation:

1. Tension – A growing sense that the way things are don’t adequately explain or account for your experiencing or desires.

2. Dissatisfaction –  with the way things are that leads you into an all out pursuit of a better way.

3. Insufficiency – The things which already exist fail to meet the need in an acceptable way. This leads to the drive for innovation that better meets the reality of the challenges that face us. Think about the transition from Morse code to land lines to cell phones to smart phones…and now even smart glasses! You used to have to walk to the phone, now you carry it with you. That reflects and is reinforced by the value of mobility in society.

4. Inefficiency…finding a shorter path to the same solution. When the models you have are cumbersome you may come to realize that what was commonly accepted as “essential” was actually negotiable.

5. Commonality – When other people express the same concern, the same burden or the same vision that is affirmation that there really is something to what you are experiencing, something to the change you are seeking, or something to the solution you are on the edge of discovering.

Working toward a solution:

6. Community – Along with commonality is community. Paradigm shifts aren’t usually worked out in isolation. They often get sparked by conversation that leads to innovation.

7. Key Information – Past experiences, relationships, and information that comes together in a new and profound way that expose a new path forward or a new way to view things. That key piece of information that plugs in at just the right time which makes sense out of all the other parts.

8. Re-purposing – what already exists. There are things we do that used to make a lot more sense than what they do now. Our tendency is to scrap these things and sometimes that is for the best. Instead of seeing something as wasted time and space ask how that already committed time and space could be re-purposed into something that advances your goals, purposes, and passions.

9. Investing Resources – Paradigms rarely shift without great effort. Shifting a paradigm takes resources. It will take your time, energy, etc. Not too many of the world’s greatest discoveries took place while sitting on the couch eating, now defunct, twinkies. Many came after multiple encounters with failure. That takes a willingness to take a risk (or multiple risks). That willingness springs out of the dissatisfaction and tension (maybe burden is a better word) of knowing there has to be a better way.

10. Unexpected – The irony is, when a paradigm does shift it wasn’t because you saw it coming…otherwise you had no need for a shift. Paradigm shifts are often the unexpected result of investing our time and energy into something important to us.

Easter, Bodily Resurrection and the Immortality of the Soul

One really common belief across religions is that existing comes with an inalienable right to continue to exist in perpetuity (forever). That is called the immortality of the soul. That view didn’t come from Judaism or Christianity but from the Greeks. Socrates and Plato both influenced this idea and it has had a heavy influence in Christian circles even still today. It is popular but is it scriptural that all souls are guaranteed eternal existence? Matthew 10:28 says it is entirely possible for God to destroy the soul. Revelation 20:14-15 call hell the “second death”. If these people have already died and are being judged and condemned to hell to die a second time and death is the cessation of life, it is entirely possible that they are consumed and gone forever (some call that the annihilation view of hell). But it only makes sense that your right to an eternal soul does not trump God’s sovereignty or ability to destroy your soul if He so wills it. Instead, many have opted for Plato even where it contradicts scripture.

The Greeks believed there was a body/soul dichotomy. The body was temporary and evil. The soul was eternal and good. So when you die, in some sense, you got an upgrade because your body was no more…decayed and never to be useful again. There was no interest in this body after death because when you die, the Greeks thought, the very best part of you lived on. Many Christians have adopted that idea and it has resulted in the belief that heaven is a place of disembodied souls like in the old hymn “Home of the Soul”,

“If for the prize we have striven,
After our labors are o’er,
Rest to our souls will be given,
On the eternal shore.”

And then, speaking of heaven in the Chorus,

“Home of the soul, beautiful home,
There we shall rest, never to roam;
Free from all care, happy and bright,
Jesus is there, He is the light!
Oft in the storm, lonely are we,
Sighing for home, longing for thee,
Beautiful home of the ransomed,
beside the crystal sea.”

Resurrection
In this view, heaven is a place of disembodied souls that live eternally with God. But is that biblical or is that just pagan Greek philosophy intermingled with Christian doctrine? This view fails to capture what the New Testament teaches us about the resurrection. What happens to the soul after we die? The Greeks believed the soul lived on in the afterlife as a shade/shadow of your former self. Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection at the end of time and in the meantime your soul was at rest (there is disagreement on what the intermediate state consists of).

So here is the question – Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection…the question is, “What is raised?” If you believe heaven is a place where disembodied souls live with God forever then you must insist that souls are being raised and that when 1 Thessalonians 5 says “The dead in Christ will rise” that souls are rising to meet Christ. Rising from what? Rising from the ground? The souls must have left their resting place, returned to the ground (where they were buried??? and then rise up from there)? That certainly seems strange. What is more, if you think souls are eternal AND heaven is about disembodied souls then why does scripture talk about resurrection giving us new life? You are already as alive as you would be, under that theory, as a disembodied soul. And, what does it mean for Christ to conquer death if there is no sign in our lives of that ever being the case? If our bodies suffer eternal decay, that certainly doesn’t seem like much of a victory over death (1 Cor 15) to me.

But if our bodies are raised the whole thing makes sense…death is not the victor, decay doesn’t have the final say and the effects of sin are reversed! The scriptures speak with continuity and clarity on this. Jesus was our forerunner. Jesus was raised in the body. He ascended to heaven bodily. Do you think he ascended bodily but checked his body at the door of heaven or do you think he will be the only guy in the room with a body in heaven? Or is it possible (and scriptural) that our bodies will be raised just like His? That is what the ancient Jews believed, what the New Testament teaches and what the early Christians believed as well. But somewhere along the line we let ancient Greek philosophy cloud our view of all of this, even when it contradicts scripture.

One Additional Gun Law I am in Favor Of

Here is one law that I wish we would enact. Close the gun show/private sale loophole. I don’t get why anyone can buy a gun via private transaction without using an FFL (Federal Firearms Licensed dealer). It makes no sense. They should require all purchases of firearms to go through an FFL. When you do that, you would require both parties to go to a local gun shop that has the FFL, have them hold the gun, pay the fee (roughly $35), that would have them go through the background check/waiting period and have the gun cleared (not stolen or used in a crime to the knowledge of law enforcement). That is a win/win for everyone involved. The seller gets peace of mind that the buyer isn’t a criminal and that there gun probably won’t get used in a crime. The buyer gets peace of mind that the gun isn’t stolen or used in a crime. The gun shop makes a few bucks off the transfer fee. No one has the rights to purchase the firearm infringed. This is the exact same process one would go through if you bought the gun new at the store. What is the drawback here? I would welcome this if I was going to buy a gun from someone. I get piece of mind for a very small fee. What is keeping us from doing that?

Mass Shootings: Christian Perspective on Prevention and Reaction

I am posting this here over from a facebook status update I put up this morning that created a pretty lengthy conversation. Here is a little bit of my perspective on this. You can put armed guards all over the place and that will deter crime. That is on the prevention side of the equation. If you bring people to Christ and give them a place to belong/transform lives to be more Christ like, that is also on the prevention side and that gets deeper into the root causes of these things. You can also treat mental illness as preventative means. But you will never get everyone and you will never prevent everything. We can reduce these things (and have over the last 5 years as violent crime has gone down every year since 2007) but we will never eliminate them.

Second, we have to differentiate between addressing symptoms and addressing the actual problems. Armed guards and legislative action by the government are aimed at symptoms, not the actual underlying condition. You cannot legislate immoral people to be moral people. You cannot legislate the heart or spiritual transformation. When all you do is address symptoms instead of getting under the surface and address the real root causes you will be largely ineffective. It is like trying to dry up a runny nose when there is an allergen that is actually causing the nose to run. You keep going outside and playing in piles of leaves and keep taking your runny nose medication until you are blue in the face. It is just not an effective way to treat the real, underlying issue. There will be some effect, sure but it won’t be as big of an effect as we might desire.

Third, the church is the missing piece here. The church works on the prevention end (changing lives) and informs the reaction end (how do we present ourselves when these things happen). The church/Gospel can do more than slap bandaids on severe lacerations…we can and do change lives. I am sure there are names of people who would have done similar things as these mass murders but were reached by a Christian somewhere and got their lives turned back around.

Hopefully some of that perspective is helpful.